Lynn V. Johnson, Ed.D.
Professor, Health and Human Performance
Plymouth State University
Plymouth, New Hampshire 03264
At some point in our personal or professional lives we have likely had a mentor. It may have been a parent, teacher, coach, colleague or friend. But whoever it was, that person had a significant positive impact on our personal and/or professional growth because that person saw something in us that they thought was special and worth spending time to help develop. Educators are in a unique position to make a difference and impact students’ lives in a positive way by helping them realize their potential and maximize their growth through mentoring. We should all take a few minutes and think about what our mentors saw in us and what they did to earn that title and then consider how we can pay them back by paying it forward.
There are many definitions of mentorship, but I like to think about it as the opportunity to guide by building trust and confidence. This can manifest itself in many ways, but for health and physical education teachers and coaches at any level, mentorship is an integral part of what we do. We interact with our students and athletes in a way that may be unique because we see them in environments that bring out different qualities. As a result, our impact on those students may be more profound. Therefore, we need to take the mentoring responsibility seriously and become the mentors that our students and athletes deserve. Mentoring is so much more than telling students what they should be doing; rather it is a process of looking for special qualities in them and then encouraging behaviors that will help them become positive contributors in whatever path that they choose. But as a mentor, we must remember to allow our mentees to take their own road and not force a direction on them. We may think that one path is right for a student and is a perfect fit, but they choose a completely different route. That is when the real mentoring begins as we should honor and support their choice. As Steven Spielberg said, “The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.”
As educators we are role models, whether we choose to be or not. As a result, we should model the behaviors that we would like to see in our students. One important behavior we should model is that whenever we interact with someone, they should feel valued and connected. When we are teaching, coaching, or just having a conversation we should be present, engaged, empathetic, aware and good listeners. It is easy to tell someone what to do based on our experiences and beliefs, but much more difficult to really listen and support that person to follow the path that they choose.
Becoming a mentor should be something that you strive for and take deliberate steps to provide opportunities to learn and evolve in a positive way. What those steps are and what form they take may differ based on who we are, but it is important for us to be as authentic as possible with our students and athletes in as many situations as we can so that we build trust. We should always be looking for and fostering qualities in all of our students and athletes that will help them thrive and then provide them with positive and enriching opportunities that will strengthen those qualities. What that looks like will most likely differ based on the student or athlete and the quality that you see.
In K-12, sometimes it is the student who struggles in the classroom but is skilled and confident when in physical education. Giving that student leadership responsibilities and then guidance and support about what leadership looks like may help build that student’s confidence outside of the gym and hopefully foster success in other areas. You may see something special in that student or athlete who is not very skilled, but loves and understands the game-concepts much more than the highly skilled. Giving them more responsibility to design plays or solve tactical problems or task challenges for their group or team, and then supporting them in the process, will build on their strengths and help them to feel more valued in multiple settings. Or, it may be the students in health class who struggles with speaking publicly, but you have noticed are very creative or tech savvy and can use those means to more effectively express thoughts and ideas. For these students, you could help them find someone who can foster those skills and then ask those students to help you modify your assignments to allow all students to express themselves and demonstrate their understanding in multiple ways. And finally, you may see
students or athletes who have a natural ability to help others improve their skills or cognitive understanding and you work with them to explore opportunities to teach in the classroom, coach at practice, and/or share career paths that would align with their strengths.
PETE/HETE professionals are in a perfect position to be mentors for future professionals by positively impacting their professional growth and by helping them understand the ways to and importance of giving back in order to enhance and enrich our beloved profession. We should be looking for the passion and drive needed to be productive and effective educators and doing all we can to enhance those qualities. Open conversations that include sharing of experiences, available opportunities and perhaps most importantly listening is certainly a way to start. Providing opportunities for students to learn about and understand the importance of joining professional organizations, going to professional conferences, assisting in presentations, teaching how to write and to eventually submit presentation proposals are all ways to mentor these future professionals. In addition, having discussions about what leadership is and what it means, what skills are important and what opportunities are available to them are all ways to support their progression to become valuable and contributing professionals.
But to do any of this, PETE/HETE professionals have to be involved themselves and be active participants in the profession, perhaps by becoming the advisor to a majors’ club in order to share those opportunities, presenting at local, regional, and national conferences and inviting future professionals to join you as observers or active participants, pursuing leadership roles yourself, and by talking to students about all of these actions. A mentor does not sit on the sidelines, but rather is an active participant who models the behaviors of a good professional and shares the benefits of that participation with others. A PETE/HETE professional should begin the mentorship process early and consistently provide varying degrees of mentorship over the future professionals’ college experience and beyond. PETE/HETE mentors cannot always determine when that mentorship is needed, so we should always be ready to help current and former students navigate the complex world of giving back to and enhancing our profession.
Mentorship does not have an end date. Once you become a mentor, you are a mentor for life. Providing consistent mentorship is important. You never know when a former student or athlete will look to you for guidance and support. Once our students graduate from whatever level we are teaching, we often lose touch. Occasionally we get a note of thanks or simply a note letting us know what is going on in their lives, both bringing smiles to our faces. We know that we have made a difference in the career of a former student, when we see their name listed as a leader in a professional or community-based organization, or as a presenter at a conference or a podcast participant. It might be that we see a student who struggled with confidence issues, become a self-assured and confident professional. These are the best compliments we could ever ask for and make our mentoring efforts worthwhile. Ultimately, the choice to engage in mentorship is an act of love for teaching, the profession, and most importantly for your students and athletes. When you make the choice to pay it forward, you did it because you recognize what your mentor did for you and how valuable the mentoring was in your life. In the end, becoming a mentor is worth every minute of your time and effort and will pay immeasurable dividends for you, your mentees, and your profession.
Steven Spielberg Quotes. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved December 29, 2021, from BrainyQuote.com
Web site: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/steven_spielberg_584069